Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Vegan Saag Aloo - Enjoy This Spicy Indian Dish With Purple Fingerling Potatoes!

This Indian Classic features fresh spinach, kale and potatoes.

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Our Visit to Portland
A week ago we went to visit our son in Portland. We always love eating out when we're there because Portland restaurants rock! My latest discovery is VegeThai on SE Hawthorne blvd. They have the best Pad Thai ever! Anyway, we did manage to cook at home one night. My son broke out one of his favorite Indian cookbooks, "Classic Indian Cooking" by Julie Sahni. This was definitely not a vegan cookbook but they had some awesome recipes that could be modified. Vaughn made a version of Saag Aloo, a simple dish of spinach, greens and potatoes. The spices are amazing and it was pretty easy to turn into a vegan dish.

The Ingredients
The basis for the dish is fresh spinach, although you can use frozen spinach in a pinch. The rest of the greens can be kale, beet, collards or mustard. My son used a mixture of kale and collards. When I came home and made the dish again, I used fresh organic spinach and Red Russian kale.
For extra color and nutritional benefits, I selected a mixture of fingerling potatoes favoring the deep purple potatoes that are rich in anthocyanins, a flavonoid associated with lowering the risk of cancer and protecting the heart. To "veganize" the dish, I replaced the ghee (clarified butter used in Indian cuisine) with Earth Balance vegan margarine. 

For convenience, I bought pre-washed spinach
Red Russian kale is a good choice for the greens
Any potato can be used but I like thin skinned fingerling, especially the purple ones!
Earth Balance is a good vegan substitute for ghee

The Wonderful Spices
The wonderful flavors in this dish come from several key spices; garlic, ginger, cumin seeds, red pepper and garam masala. The combination creates an incredibly tasty dish - so tasty that it doesn't require the amount of salt listed in the original recipe. When I made it at home, I only used 1/2 teaspoon versus the  1 1/2 teaspoons called for.

I often use ground cumin but cumin seed was new to me
Garam masala is a mixture of cinnamon, coriander, fennel, cumin, black pepper, cardamom and cloves

Making the Dish More Healthful
This dish is already quite healthful providing nearly 1/2 of your daily fiber requirement and all the wonderful benefits of the greens and purple potatoes.
To make the dish even more healthful, I made two major changes. I reduced the original recipe from 5 tablespoons of ghee to 2 tablespoons of Earth Balance. The key here was the reduction of fat (not necessarily the change to Earth Balance). For non-vegans, ghee has some benefits from regular butter in that it is clarified, has no hydrogenated oils, is lactose free and doesn't burn when used in cooking. But the 5 tablespoons in the recipe seemed a bit excessive. The other thing I did, as mentioned, is reduce the amount of salt.  These 2 simple changes resulted in significant benefits. The original recipe has 40% higher calories, 3 times the fat, 5 1/2 times the saturated fat, 41 mg of cholesterol (the vegan recipe has none) and twice the sodium. And, there was NO change to the flavor!

Two Major Steps
There's a bit of prepping for this recipe (cleaning and chopping greens mostly) and the cooking process takes a little time but it's really quite simple and is worth the time and effort. Just pour a glass of wine and start stirring!

The first step is to fry up the potatoes
Slowly, handful by handful, you will stir in and wilt the greens

Vegan Saag Aloo
[modified from the original recipe in Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni]
Vegan, Gluten Free
[makes 4 main course servings]

1 pound organic fresh spinach
1 pound fresh kale (or other greens like collards, mustard or beet)
1 pound thin skinned potatoes (use purple if possible)
2 tablespoons Earth Balance buttery spread
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger 
1/2 teaspoon sea or Kosher salt
1 cup boiling water
3/4 teaspoon garam masala

Wash greens well. Coarsely chop spinach with its stems. Remove stems from kale and coarsely chop. Set aside.
Cut fingerling potatoes in 1 inch chunks. If using small round potatoes, cut in quarters or halves.
Heat Earth Balance in a non-stick Dutch oven or large frying pan. When hot, add cumin seeds until they turn dark (around 10 seconds). Stir in crushed red pepper and garlic and add potatoes. Reduce heat to medium and fry potatoes until brown, around 5 to 8 minutes, turning frequently.
Add spinach, a handful at a time. When it wilts, in about 30 seconds, add more until it is all incorporated.  
Do the same thing with the greens until they are all incorporated.
Sprinkle with ground ginger and salt. Stir well and add 1 cups boiling water. Reduce heat and cook, covered, for 20 minutes.
Uncover and cook until the excess moisture evaporates, about 10 to 15 minutes.
Increase heat and stir until the greens look almost dry, about 5 minutes. 
Stir in garam masala and serve.

Per serving: 222 calories, 5.5 g fat, 1.8 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 12 g protein, 37 g carbohydrates, 12 g dietary fiber and 495 mg sodium.

Thanks to Julie Sahni for inspiring this vegan recipe!


Marcia said...

I love saag aloo. It was introduced to me by vegetarian friends at their favorite restaurant in Santa Fe, years ago. I bought an Indian cookbook JUST so I could make it at home.

Amanda said...

Doesn't Portland have the best restaurants? We just came back from a visit there, too. We discovered Prasad on this trip and fell in love. I'm going to add that Thai place to our list for next time.

I really need to try making Indian food at home. It's not a cuisine I grew up with, but I really enjoy it as an adult, and even more so since going vegan.

Dr. Joanne L. Mumola Williams said...

Have you tried the Blossoming Lotus? It's amazing. I wrote a review 7/9/10 you should check out - http://foodsforlonglife.blogspot.com/2010/07/review-of-portlands-blossoming-lotus.html. I also like the Bay Leaf.
We're going back in December - I'll have to try Prasad. Thanks for the recommendation!